my two cents

‘How I’m Spending My Stimulus Check’

Photo: John Piekos/Getty Images

The Biden administration’s newly passed pandemic aid bill will provide stimulus checks of up to $1,400 per qualifying person (individuals who make $80,000 or less, couples who make under $160,000, and single parents who make up to $120,000). It will also provide those households with up to $1,400 per dependent. For the millions of Americans who have lost income due to COVID, this will provide at least some relief. For others, it will help meet needs that they would otherwise struggle to afford. Here’s what six different women are planning to spend their checks on.

“I’m using it to afford maternity leave.” — Maya, 37, freelance writer in Los Angeles

I just had a baby a few weeks ago, and my pregnancy was extremely difficult. I was on bed rest for a good portion of my third trimester, and I didn’t work at all during the last month because I was in and out of the hospital so much. Before that, I’d been working at a reduced cadence since December because of health complications. And COVID took a huge chunk out of my assignments since the previous March. So this past year has been extremely challenging, and we weren’t able to save nearly as much for my maternity leave as I would have liked, even though I hustled a lot.

Our biggest expenses every month are rent, which is $3,100; our car payment, which is $500; and day care for our older child, which is about $900. We’ve been able to stay on top of everything because I’ve been drawing from my savings and cobbling together whatever relief we can get. We got a small rent subsidy from the government in January, for about $2,000. And last year we received some unemployment funds because COVID disrupted our work so much. My husband owns his own business, but because it’s so new and was COVID-affected, it isn’t really profitable yet.

My maternity leave is all unpaid, because I’m a freelancer. I’m planning to take as much time as I can, until I run out of savings. The stimulus check will make a huge difference with that. If it’s $1,400 per person, including our children, then that would cover about a full month’s worth of our expenses. It will allow me to take at least three months off before I start looking for work again, which is ideal, especially since I have a lot of physical recovering to do.

“I’m giving it to my brother’s family.” —Morgan, 44, property manager in Silicon Valley

The last recession was ruinous for my husband and me. We owned a gas station and we lost pretty much everything except each other. When we got out of that situation, we decided that we wanted to live our lives very simply. It’s just us and our dogs, that’s it. We found our current job on Craigslist. We manage a property for a private family. They provide our housing and we take care of their home and their land and make sure everything is running smoothly. It’s not glamorous — we clean toilets — but we feel incredibly lucky, especially after this past year. The pandemic did cause me to lose my side gig as a Pilates teacher, so I used our first two stimulus checks to replace that income. But overall we’re financially stable.

My brother’s family, on the other hand, has been struggling a lot. He’s only 46, but he’s suffering from what appears to be an early form of dementia, and my 80-year-old mom has been helping him and his wife take care of their two daughters, who are 4 and 6. Because of his health, my brother has to take a lot of time off from his job as a landscaper, and he doesn’t get paid sick leave, so they’re having trouble making ends meet. Both his wife and my mom also work very hard, but the pandemic has disrupted their income at various points in the past year, and things have been really rough for them.

I’m putting my latest stimulus check into a savings account that I started for my nieces. Whenever I have some extra cash, I put it in there. I know it’s not a ton of money, but it is to a lot of people — it is to me! And this is the first time in my life when I’ve had the means to be able to help my family out financially, which means a lot.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to buy my son some new clothes.” —Alethia, 26, recruiter for a start-up in New York

About a year ago, my salary was cut by about half, to $2,000 a month. I’m a recruiter, and as you can imagine, my company wasn’t doing any hiring during the pandemic. My 1-year-old son and I live with my parents in Westchester, and they were my saving grace. Normally I pay them rent, but they waived it when my income was cut. Still, it was tough, financially and emotionally. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to contribute to my parents’ home expenses as much as I normally do. I also had to rely on my son’s father to shoulder the cost of day care. I’ll be eligible for almost $3,000 in stimulus money, which will allow me to pay them back a little bit. And hopefully I’ll be able to buy my son some new clothes. He’s been relying on hand-me-downs, but those only go so far.

I also want to put the money towards continuing my education so that I can get a higher salary in the future. I’m planning to start by taking an online course in HR management, and the stimulus check could pay for that. I might also apply for an MBA program, and the stimulus money could cover application fees. I’m still doing the math, and I have student loans from undergrad, so it’ll be tight. But I’m hoping I can make it work.

“I’m putting it towards the costs of IVF.” —Siobhan, 41, digital marketing manager for a beauty brand in New York

I’ve had multiple miscarriages since I got married a few years ago, and last year we decided to try for IVF. Then COVID hit, and my salary was cut by 20 percent, which reduced our expendable income by a lot. IVF is hard to afford to begin with, and that made everything more stressful. But the clock is ticking for me, fertility-wise, so if we’re going to do this, we need to do it now. We used all of the money we got for our wedding plus some of our savings on the first retrieval procedure. Now we need to do it again, because we didn’t get as many embryos as we hoped in the first cycle.

Between the three procedures — two retrievals, plus a transfer — we’re going to be spending about $40,000 in the span of three months. I took on freelance work after my salary was cut, which helped a little. We’ve also reduced our expenses a lot. Still, this will wipe out our savings, which is scary and frustrating.

I’ve always wanted to have a family, and my husband is very reassuring that this is the best use of our money right now. But I wish we weren’t having this problem, and I wish we didn’t have to spend so much money on it, especially when the pandemic has made money so tight. We were hoping to put that nest egg towards a house someday. The stimulus money will help offset this cost a little bit, and anything extra we can get right now is helpful.

“I’m using it to rebuild my business.” —Shanna, 40, small business owner in Kansas

I run a small business that helps other small businesses strategize their growth, primarily through digital marketing. As you can probably imagine, everything screeched to a halt last March. All my clients called me and put everything on hold. So my business revenue has dipped by about 70 percent in the past year. I qualified for PPP money, and that helped us get by. But it’s been hard. My husband and I cut out all nonessentials. We also live frugally already, and because of that, we’ve been okay — it’s not like we couldn’t afford health insurance or groceries for our kids, which is fortunate.

The stimulus check will be enormously helpful to keep my business above water. I’ve been trying to pivot my business model and develop new services for potential clients, but it costs money to do that. I needed to buy software to make videos, and lighting and other equipment. I’ve also redone my website to get myself ready for when people are ready to start investing in growth again. Now I’m planning to buy Facebook ads to market myself. This aid money will help pay for all those things, and tide us over in the meantime.

“I’m giving it directly to my landlord.”—Maddie, 25, works in TV production in New York

My stimulus check is going directly to rent. After months of being unemployed, I’ve whittled my expenses down to basically nothing, so rent is the only doozy left. In fact, I pay exactly $1,400 a month, the same amount as the stimulus check. So the whole thing is going straight to my landlord when it comes.

I’m dying to work. I just haven’t been getting calls. It’s tough because everyone seems so optimistic right now — like, vaccines are happening, spring has sprung, stimulus checks, hooray — and that’s great, but it doesn’t change the fact that so many people are still unemployed, including me. The economy isn’t going to recover overnight. I’m an independent contractor in TV production, and things are starting to pick up in the industry, but not for me yet.

I’ve had dribs and drabs of work over the past year. There was nothing at all from March to late July, but then I worked pretty consistently from August through mid-December. Then things dried up again. I’ve been able to receive unemployment, but money is much tighter than I’d like. I’ve always been frugal and good at saving, and that’s the main thing that’s kept me from falling behind on rent. The stimulus check will help; it’s nice that there’s one month I don’t have to worry about. I can keep going for a little while longer, even though I wish I could just be working instead.

This post has been updated.

‘How I’m Spending My Stimulus Check’